How Triathlon Can Make You a Better Runner
Whether you love the competitive aspect of running events, run for mental clarity or enjoy accumulating miles to compensate for the choices of your inner-foodie, triathlon can take your run game to another level.
Seasoned runners are known to cross over to the Tri side. Why? Sometimes it’s pure curiosity, however they are often forced to make the switch due to an unforeseen injury. Whatever the reason is, many newcomers are surprised by how much their run fitness improves despite running fewer miles and introducing two additional disciplines into the mix.
Cause of Setbacks
Countless runners vary their training sessions in just a few ways, if any at all. Their weekend long runs progressively increase in distance and duration. They experience spikes in intensity while pushing themselves through their shorter tempo or interval runs, and may be exposed to some hill running on occasion. This common approach is an effective way to improve as a runner. Unfortunately, years of this type of training can lead to overuse injuries caused by running in a single plane and direction, applying a similar type of stress to the same muscle groups, joints, tendons and ligaments, repeatedly.
Below are a few ways explaining how triathlon can help:
Swim Your Way to an Easier Run
Swimming provides a perfect opportunity to cross-train by challenging the athlete to strengthen their legs, core and entire upper body. The variety in strokes force the swimmers to recruit completely different muscles. Each stroke has its unique kick which challenges and strengthens the leg muscles in different areas. For example, the freestyle kick can teach the athlete to start firing the glutes, while the breast stroke will help develop the often-underused adductor and abductor muscles (inner and outer thighs). These kick variations can eliminate many deficiencies in leg strength and encourage a more powerful running stride while reducing the risk of injury.
Although swimming is usually the most intimidating of the three disciplines in triathlon, it’s also an ideal activity for runners to learn how to breathe correctly. Proper breathing is often overlooked while running, but it’s unavoidable in the pool. Swimming forces athletes to find a steady rhythm while timing each inhale and exhale with a specific stroke count. This not only translates to a well-paced and smooth activity, but it also increases lung capacity, benefitting the overall endurance.
Build Your Power on the Bike
Cycling continues to develop the stamina and strength even further, while minimizing the high-impact activity. Plus, you can ride for hours and recover quickly due to the low-impact demands. Implementing single-leg drills on a stationary bike or a trainer will not only strengthen the quads and calves, but also contribute to a major improvement in the development of the hamstrings and hip flexors. In addition to the physical benefits, a two- or three-hour ride can build the much-needed confidence in someone who’s been considering training for their first half or a full marathon. Cycling is clearly different from running, but once an athlete has completed a bike ride of few hours, suddenly, they believe that running for that duration is also possible.
Bring Back the Passion
Unless you’re actively seeking ways to make it more exciting, running can become monotonous and with time it’s possible to lose your enthusiasm to lace up and get out the door. Pushing through these unenthusiastic sessions can certainly test the will and strengthen the resilience of those facing this challenge. But what if there is another way? What if it doesn’t always have to come down to forcing yourself to overcome the resistance and tricking your mind to stay motivated? Well, for many, triathlon is the answer!
The variety of the three disciplines constantly rotating keeps things fresh and exciting. If you’re feeling bored during your long run, the thought of hopping in the pool the following day can be encouraging. If the bike seat begins to numb your behind, you may look forward to shaking your legs out on the next trail run. The mind is always stimulated and body constantly challenged with completely different movement patterns.
As you alternate the three sports over the course of weeks and months, you’re always challenging your overall fitness and allowing your body to recover from the previous day’s effort. Your sessions might be more frequent than in traditional running programs, yet the combination of the three disciplines minimizes the risk of injury while elevating you to a fine-tuned endurance machine.